Fix: Windows 11 won’t recognize an external hard drive

by Kazim Ali Alvi
Kazim Ali Alvi
Kazim Ali Alvi
Author
Kazim has always been fond of technology, be it scrolling through the settings on his iPhone, Android device, or Windows. And at times, unscrewing the device to take... read more
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  • If your Windows 11 PC won't recognize the external hard drive, it could both be due to a hardware or software problem.
  • Most often than not, it's an improper connection, but sometimes, the device driver too is found to affect the functioning.
  • To fix the problem, initialize the disk if it's new, update the drivers for it, or try the other methods listed here.
Fix Windows 11 PC can't recognize external hard drive
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The internal drive on our computer doesn’t always offer the required storage, and to expand it, purchasing an external hard drive seems to be the most viable option. But, what do you do if Windows 11 won’t recognize an external hard drive?

The problem here could be due to a bunch of reasons, but it’s simple to get the hard drive up and running, given you follow the right approach, and that the drive itself is not faulty.

So, let’s walk you through the most effective fixes for the Windows 11 won’t recognize an external hard drive issue.

What can I do if Windows 11 won’t recognize an external hard drive?

1. Check the connections

First, you should check that the connections are in order since it’s the most common issue behind the problem. Make sure that the cable is properly plugged into the ports at both ends and that there is no damage to it.

Also, verify that the port requirements are in order. Some external hard drives work only when connected to a USB 3.0 port, so make sure to check that and then connect it to the right port.

Once done, if the Windows 11 won’t recognize the external hard drive problem persists, head to the next method.

2. Initialize the external hard drive (new ones only)

Note icon
NOTE
This method is only applicable for the new ones and will involve formatting the drive. So, if your drive has critical data stored on it, skip this method for now and try the ones listed next.

  1. Press Windows + S to launch the Search menu, enter Create and format hard disk partitions in the text field at the top, and click on the relevant search result.Create and format hard disk partitions to fix windows 11 won't recognize external hard drive
  2. Now, locate the external hard drive from the ones listed at the bottom. They will all be assigned a number, but the easiest way to identify them is through their storage.
  3. If the problematic disk says Not Initialized, right-click on it and select Initialize Disk from the context menu.Initialize disk to fix windows 11 won't recognize external hard drive
  4. Select a partition style for the disk, it could either be MBR or GPT. We recommend that you choose GPT since it lets you create more partitions but bear in mind that you won’t be able to use the drive on PCs running Windows 8 and older versions.GPT
  5. Once done, right-click on the empty portion to the right, and select New Simple Volume.New simple volume
  6. Click Next to proceed.Next
  7. Enter the volume size that you want to keep in the dedicated field, and then click on Next.Size of volume to fix windows 11 won't recognize external hard drive
  8. The next step is to assign a drive letter. You can either go with the default selection or manually choose one from the dropdown menu, and then click Next.Assign drive letter to fix windows 11 won't recognize external hard drive
  9. Here, you have to choose a File System and Volume Label. If you are new to this, we recommend going forward with the default settings here, though you can add the desired volume label. Click Next to proceed.File System and Volume Label
  10. Verify the details and click on Finish to start the process.Finish

After you have initialized it, check if Windows 11 will now recognize the external hard drive. Some new drives are not initialized, and in this case, these are not listed in the File Explorer. Also, it’s critical that you create a primary partition on the drive.

3. Update the driver

  1. Press Windows + S to launch the Search menu, enter Device Manager in the text field, and right-click on the relevant search result.Device Manager to fix windows 11 won't recognize external hard drive
  2. Now, double-click on the Disk drives entry here.Disk drives
  3. Right-click on the problematic drive, and select Update driver from the context menu.Update driver to fix windows 11 won't recognize external hard drive
  4. Next, select Search automatically for drivers from the options in the Update Drivers window.Search automatically for drivers
  5. Wait for the OS to locate and install the best available driver for the drive.

If the drivers installed for the external hard drive are outdated or are infected with a bug, your Windows 11 PC most likely won’t recognize it. In this case, the best option is to update the drivers since it will eliminate the error and also improve the device’s performance.

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In case you are unable to update via Device Manager, try the other methods to manually install the latest driver version in Windows 11.

Similarly, update the USB drivers, in case it’s not the hard drive but the USB ports that are causing the trouble.

Also, you can use a reliable third-party app. We recommend DriverFix, to automatically locate and install the latest version for every driver on the computer. Also, the tool only installs credible drivers, so your system remains safe and secure.

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4. Assign a drive letter

  1. Press Windows + R to launch the Run command, type diskmgmt.msc in the text field, and either click on OK or hit Enter to launch Disk Management.Disk Management
  2. Now, verify if the malfunctioning drive has a letter associated with it. If not, right-click on it and select Change Drive Letter and Paths from the context menu.Change drive letter and paths to fix windows 11 won't recognize external hard drive
  3. Click on the Add button to proceed.Add
  4. You can now either choose a drive letter from the dropdown menu or go with the one selected by default, and then click on OK.Add drive letter to fix windows 11 won't recognize external hard drive

For a device to be listed in the File Explorer, it should have a drive letter assigned. If that’s not the case, make sure to assign one and the Windows 11 won’t recognize external hard drive issue would be fixed.

By the time you reach this part of the article, the error should be long gone and you can start using your external hard drives without any trouble. Also, if you have another PC running the previous iteration, learn what to do if the external hard drive does not show up in Windows 10.

In case the hard drive went missing after an update in your case, check the solutions listed in the linked guide. Also, if you find out that the hard drive itself is faulty, check our curated list of the best hard drives for Windows 11.

Tell us which fix worked and the hard drive you were facing issues with, in the comments section below.

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